* World trade grows 15.1 pct in 2010, 2.6 pct qtr/qtr in Q4
* Passes previous peak seen in April 2008
By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - International trade volumes exceeded pre-crisis levels for the first time in December, and global trade expanded by a record 15.1 percent in the whole of 2010, the Dutch CPB economic institute said on Wednesday.
The data were further evidence of a buoyant global economy, with the full-year expansion in trade more than compensating for the 13.0 percent contraction in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, it said in its monthly world trade monitor.
The 2010 and 2009 figures were respectively the biggest expansion and contraction since the institute started compiling the data in 1991, CPB economist Jos Ebregt told Reuters.
But the gains were shared unevenly, with trade expanding the most in the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America. Import and export growth in the United States were close to the world average but growth in the euro area lagged behind considerably.
CPB, whose data are used by the World Bank and European Commission, said its index of merchandise trade volumes -- set at 100 in the year 2000 -- had reached 164.5 in December, up from 161.5 in November and compared with a previous high of 163.8 in April 2008. The index fell to 130.3 in May 2009.
World exports had recovered to pre-crisis levels in November, but global imports did not match previous peaks until December, the data show.
The sum of global imports and exports should be the same, but statistical differences in different countries often lead to a disparity.
The 2010 expansion in trade was boosted by strong growth in the fourth quarter, when trade volumes rose 2.6 percent over their level in the third quarter. In the third quarter they rose only 0.7 percent over their level in the previous three months.
The figures suggest that world trade -- and hence the global economy -- is picking up again. The pace of recovery in world trade had slowed for much of 2010 with the completion of the initial wave of inventory-building.
Looking at the more volatile monthly data, trade volumes increased by 1.8 percent in December, the same as in November, with export growth in emerging economies outpacing that of advanced countries despite a 9.2 percent rise in Japan.
Imports into emerging economies continued to expand in December while falling in Japan and the euro area, it said. (CPB trade monitor at bit.ly/g4uVwK ) (Editing by Laura MacInnis)